A charter school authorizer (also known as a sponsor) is responsible for overseeing the operations of charter schools under its charge. In simple terms, a charter is a contract, and there are two parties to every contract. In the case of a charter school, the school’s board of directors is responsible for performing the duties and setting the goals set out by the contract, while the authorizer is responsible for making sure the board actually fulfills the terms of the contract.
One key feature of any state’s charter school law is “who can serve as a charter school authorizer?”
Having a motivated an interested authorizer is a key to the success of a charter school. Likewise, having one or more authorizers who will both oversee and support charter schools is essential for any state that wishes to take advantage of the charter school idea.
In some states, including Kansas, only local school districts can serve as authorizers. This is a problem, since some districts oppose charter schools, seeing them as a competitive threat. Still others may not be equipped (or have the incentive) to offer sufficient supervision to a charter school.
For this reason, some states have created other organizations to serve as charter school authorizers. Here are some examples:
- The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools is one of several authorities in Arizona that oversees charter schools.
- Charter School Institute of Colorado is one agency that reviews charter school applications and offers accreditation of charters.
- The Florida Schools of Excellence Office offers a means of appeal to charter school applicants who have been denied by a local district.
- The Georgia State Board of Education may oversee a “state chartered special school” if the “charter has been denied by a local board of education, mediation has not been successful, and the charter petition meets” various legal requirements.
- The Idaho Public Charter Schools Commission is a specialized, authorizing agency.
- In Indiana, Ball State University as well as the office of the mayor of Indianapolis serve as authorizers.
- Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is one of several authorities with oversight.
- Massachusetts has two types of charter schools, including some overseen by the state department of education.
- In Michigan, several state universities serve as charter school authorizers.
- Minnesota, the state that created the first charter school law in the country, uses colleges, foundations, school districts, and other groups as authorizers. In the 2010 legislative session, the state enacted a law that “shifts the focus of the department from approving every individual charter school to approving charter school authorizers, who in turn will be responsible for approving charter schools and holding them accountable. The law also allows the state to approve up to three single-purpose authorizers, whose sole purpose will be to charter schools, adding to Minnesota’s charter school options.
- The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction can authorize charters.
- The Ohio Council of Community Schools is one organization that oversees charter schools in Ohio.
- The South Carolina Charter School District can authorize charter schools throughout the state.
- Utah’s State Charter School Board oversees some charter schools in the state, while districts oversee others.
See the National Association of Charter School Authorizers for more information on the role of charter school authorizers.